It’s Time to Graduate, Part I

Four years ago, I was a stressed out teen entering school with travel plans and a determination to pass the Spanish CLEP test practice ASAP. Three years ago I graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a degree in Communication Design. Little did I know the five years spent in the university system did not prepare me for the working world. But that’s okay, what I have learned in the past three years is that education is continual, my time at college was the beginning, a stepping stone toward my future career.

I want to give a word of advice to any soon-to-be graduates in preparation for entering the working field of design and/or development. These are all things I have learned over the past three years, and wish someone had provided me while in school (really when I was a freshman).

So Now You Need a Job

Congratulation, you’ve graduated! School is over, you’ve made it through the hard times, right? Well, sort of. Your life is about to change, before now you were always working toward something. Work hard and get through middle school, four years and get through high school, four (or five) years and get through college. But now, no more countdowns, you have the rest of your life ahead of you.

You’ve probably heard that getting a job right now is tough, you’ve probably been told the field is competitive. Yes, all true. But that doesn’t have to hinder your chances of getting a job, you can get a job if you fight for it. If you expect a good job to land in your lap, wake up because you’re dreaming. There are certain things necessary that will put you ahead of the crowd and guarantee success, with acquiring your first professional job and second and third.

Getting Hired Is 60% Talent, 70% Connections

That’s right, those stats are correct. To get a job you need to be talented to stand out, and you need connections. After all, no man is an island. Previously I believed it didn’t matter if I paid attention to other designers or made friends with my classmates. Well, was I wrong. Start now, look at what other people design and build, talk with your classmates and make friends. A connection now could mean a job in the future.

Have you started applying for jobs? The sooner you start the better. Starting now will guarantee your resume gets in front of the herds of applicants that wait until they graduate in May. If you really want to get into that cool design firm down the street, start now!

Looking for a job is marketing. You are marketing yourself. That includes your abilities and your name. Therefore I suggest not trying to be cute and clever promoting yourself with a moniker, just use your name. Buy a domain name with your name in it (do the best you can, domain names are tough nowadays). Building a reputation around your name will help you in the years to come. (There is a time to use a handle or moniker, but only if you have already spent years building that persona. If you are an unknown entity leaving school, use your name).

Also, don’t expect to be able to graduate and instantly set up your own business. Unless you have previously been working on your business and creating professional work for real clients. When someone tells me they plan on starting a business with zero experience, I just laugh in their face. Okay let’s move on.

You Need a Portfolio

Every self-respecting designer and developer needs a piece of real-estate on the web. A website doesn’t have to be complex or perfect, but you do need a website to display and promote your work. Keep it simple, don’t go overboard (unless you really want to). If you are a designer and don’t do much development yourself, it’s okay to have a site built with a theme or service like Squarespace, but whatever you do make sure it looks good! If you’re a developer, well, you better build your own site ;) Either way be sure to properly and fully explain and present your work and yourself.

One more thing, blogs are awesome! I know blogs can seem scary, maybe you’re not a confident writer or don’t think you have anything of value to say. That’s okay, the best thing to do is just start, try it out. I’m in the same boat, still trying to figure this blog thing out and stay consistent. But you don’t get better without practice.

Get Social

Maybe you’ve heard of this thing called social media, it’s kind of a big deal. Just like having a personal portfolio site is important, having accounts on several social networks can be incredibly helpful.

LinkedIn. Everyone should be on LinkedIn. Yes, previously you probably thought LinkedIn was a “social network” for your dad, but hey, it will help you out. So setup an account, fill in all the important information and start connecting to people. My word of advice when starting a new job or before leaving college, is connect to everyone around you. It’s easier to connect with someone right away than wait until you change jobs or leave school. LinkedIn displays how many connections you have up to 500, so another good rule of thumb is accept any connection request no matter who it is until you get to 500. That being said, connect with me!

Dribbble. If you are a designer, you need to be on Dribbble. Dribbble is an exclusive social network for designers to post shots of what they are working on (all terminology is based on basketball). Dribbble is a great way to find and befriend awesome designers around the world and in your local area. Dribbble operates on an invite only system, so getting in can take time, but is well worth it!

Github. Github is a place to store all your code. Github works hand-in-hand with the versioning tool Git. If you are a developer you should be using Git, and if you use Git you should be using Github (because it’s awesome). Having an account on Github allows you to check out and follow the day-to-day project development of your team and favorite developers and allows others to see what you are working on too! I highly suggest designers check Github and Git out as well.

Twitter. At this point I think we all know what Twitter is, even if you don’t use it. I suggest starting a Twitter account if you don’t already have one. Twitter is a great way to touch base with people you normally would never know. I use Facebook for my private life, and Twitter for my public life. With Twitter you can keep in touch with friends and family, get important news, and follow and befriend thought leaders in your industry.

CodePen. CodePen is a new one on the development scene. CodePen allows users to create examples of projects, either to share, explore, or seek help and advice of others. You can explores other people’s “pens”, and even fork and modify the code. It’s a really cool way to get involved in the development community and is a must-have for developers.

Seek Feedback & Advice

The best thing you can do is seek the opinion of others who are in a place to offer good advice. That could be teachers, friends, alumni, designers and developers online you admire. Ask for help and people will help you. Ask for a portfolio review, or ask for introductions if you know of a second degree connection at a firm you would like to work. It never hurts!

That being said, I would like to help you. If you need advice or counsel or a review of your work, feel free to contact me and I will do what I can to help you along the right path. Leave a comment below or shoot me a message on Twitter at @calebsylvest, looking forward to hearing from you!

Check out part two of the series, It’s Time to Graduate, Part II.

3 thoughts on “It’s Time to Graduate, Part I”

  1. Your post is right on! I wish they had been more honest with us at Tech and made us start preparing for graduation our junior year. I don’t know if even that would have been enough time. I enjoy reading your blog and hope you’re doing well.

    1. Thanks for the kind works Caitlin, and I agree! This is stuff that should be talked about at the beginning of university education. I don’t know how all universities handle their design curriculum, but at Tech there was never talk of being active in the community, social media outlets, or learning from current thought leaders.

      I hope that can change, and soon. One thing I have learned since entering the professional field is that I can’t rely on my traditional education to help me succeed, I have to make my own breaks, teach myself everyday, and connect with people who really care.

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